August 16, 2009 9:07 PM

Reverse Split

Mets vs. Phillies

Brad Lidge got the job done Friday night. Called in to save a 3-2 Phillies win, Lidge retired the first Braves' batter, Yunel Escobar, on a hard line drive to right field. Adam LaRoche followed with a single, and pinch-runner Matt Diaz stole second base. After whiffing Ryan Church for the second out, Lidge walked Greg Norton. Nate McLouth came to the plate, with the game-tying run on second, and the game-winning run on first. McLouth drove the ball to deep left field, but the ballpark held it, and left fielder Raul Ibanez grabbed it on the warning track.

Lidge was going for his second save, in as many games, as he entered Saturday's game. Protecting a 3-2 lead, Lidge induced a Garret Anderson ground ball to second base. But Chase Utley misplayed the ball into a leadoff single. The Braves opted to sacrifice, and Matt Diaz was directed to lay down the bunt. Diaz' bunt was fielded by Lidge, who looked towards second, bobbled the ball, and threw it down the first base line. Anderson scored the tying run on the play, and Diaz ended up on third base. Instead of one out, and the tying run on second base, Lidge's miscues had the game tied, no one out, and the winning run only ninety feet away. An intentional walk, and a (likely) un-intentional intentional walk, loaded the bases. Omar Infante hit a ground ball, between second and third base. Under different circumstances, the ball would have visited shortstop Jimmy Rollins' glove, briefly, before landing in first baseman Ryan Howard's glove. Infante's ground ball bounded past the drawn-in infield, for a game-winning single.

Lidge's blown save on Saturday has reinvigorated the calls for Lidge to removed from the closer's role. If the defensively-adept Utley makes that play, the inning could have gone very differently. We could be talking about how Lidge is, finally, getting his game together, and that the only problem left to fix is Eric Bruntlett.

That wouldn't exactly be deserved, either, as Lidge should have had a blown save on Friday night. Either way, his performance this weekend has not instilled any confidence. What are the Phillies' options? Well, they can continue to go with Lidge, or they can give Ryan Madson another shot as closer. Madson did not do well, earlier this season, when he was the closer during a Lidge DL stint. But he has improved since then, and probably couldn't do worse than Lidge has done. I'd like to see Madson get another shot to close, and think he could succeed. But not necessarily now, and not at the possible expense of what remains of Lidge's increasingly-fragile confidence. The best Phillies' team, likely, includes an effective Madson, setting up for an effective Lidge. Expect the Phillies to continue to use Lidge to close games, at least for the immediate future, in hopes that he will start to get better results. I wouldn't go as far as saying that Saturday's blown save was a blessing in disguise, but the Phillies certainly need to figure out the closing situation. Blown saves can be a lot more costly, in the short series of the postseason.

Almost lost amidst Lidge's struggles was another, insidious, culprit. If the Phillies hadn't gone 1 for 12, with runners in scoring position, Saturday's game may not have even included a Lidge appearance. The Phillies had numerous chances to at least add to their one-run lead, if not turn the contest into one that even Tyler Walker could finish. Over time, more of those at bats are bound to be successful. Until then, a few less strikeouts, and a few more sacrifice flies, would be quite helpful.

Besides Lidge, and the RISP conversion issues, the Phillies have had a good weekend. Tremendous defensive play by outfielders Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth, and homers by Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, keyed Friday's victory. (Braves Manager Bobby Cox, inexplicably, removed southpaw Mike Gonzalez from the game, and allowed Ryan Howard to face northpaw Rafael Soriano. Howard's solo homer off Soriano provided the final margin.) Joe Blanton was outstanding (again) on Friday, permitting only one earned run (and one unearned run), in seven innings. His ERA is all the way down to 3.88, and Blanton is eating some serious innings (at least six and two-thirds in each of his last seven starts). Cole Hamels almost matched Blanton's results in his start on Saturday, permitting only a pair of runs (three hits, four walks/two whiffs), in six innings, despite not having his best stuff.

Another hot Phillies starting pitcher, J.A. Happ, is on the mound Sunday night. Javier Vazquez will start for the Braves, in what could be another tight game. With Lidge and Madson both having pitched in consecutive games, it's unclear who would close tonight for the Phillies. (I would bet on Madson, as he has thrown a combined fifteen pitches, in the weekend's first two games.) Hopefully, Happ and the Phillies' bats will do enough early in the game, that a save won't be necessary. But I'm confident that Madson can do the job, even if Joe Morgan has, probably, never even heard of him.

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